Surviving Christmas: How To Cope With Family Feuds And Boy Drama This Season

"The truth is that for lots of us, the excesses of Christmas can present a whole lot of worries and woes."

Woman screaming christmas

From family feuding to avoiding boy drama back home, the festive period isn’t always all fun. Victoria Stokes gets the lowdown on how to survive it with your sanity intact

What comes to mind when you think of Christmas? Chances are you picture fizz-filled office parties, perfectly-wrapped pressies under the tree, and cosy evenings spent under the duvet watching festive flicks like Home Alone. Festive tunes ring out in every store, sparkles fill our wardrobes and there’s just a touch of magic in the air, but the truth is that for lots of us, the excesses of Christmas can present a whole lot of worries and woes.

Maybe you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one or December marks the anniversary of a death. Maybe all the Christmas dos and the pressure to party kicks your social anxiety into overdrive, or maybe you’re just simply terrified of heading back home for the holidays, where spats with your siblings and awkward encounters with old flames are very real possibilities.

Fortunately, Alice Kelly, clinical manger at the Clanwilliam Institute (clanwilliam.ie) has your back. “Christmas Day and the days and weeks leading up to it can bring with them a myriad of feelings, not all of which are positive,” she asserts. “As a child, all many of us had to worry about was whether Santa would come. Now, as adults, there is so much more to consider. Everywhere we look there are films, TV shows and advertisements telling us how wonderful and happy a Christmas we should be having and it’s a lot of pressure for anyone to take on.”

So how best to deal with these tricky scenarios? Luckily, there are tips and tricks for dealing with every kind of seasonal setback.

Family Drama

Worried about spending extended time with your siblings and folks this Christmas? You’re not alone. “Every year my family have this massive fight,” says Julia, 29. “It all starts out nice but by the time we’ve all spent a couple of days together tempers flare and the bickering starts. It means I spend most of Christmas anticipating the next argument and absolutely fuming with my sister or my parents about something they’ve said. I don’t look forward to being with my family at Christmas the way my friends do. The stress of avoiding an argument with them just makes me anxious for weeks beforehand.”

Fortunately, Alice says this kind of in-family fighting is nothing out of the ordinary. “Often the build up to Christmas can be so hectic and filled with late nights and busy work days, that by the time everyone rolls in the door on Christmas eve, fuses are short and tensions are high,” she explains. To combat it, looking back at previous argument triggers is a must. “What do you recognise and remember as being sources of arguments in the past?” asks Alice. “What could you do differently this year?”

Organising time apart can be a relationship saver too.  “Try not to over-plan or over-stretch yourself,” Alice advises. “Christmas is an opportunity for people to relax so think about planning some downtime,” and ultimately if you need time by yourself, take it.

The key is to know who you’re dealing with. “You know your family; you know what rubs them up the wrong way and how they might respond to it so it won’t be a surprise when arguments happen,” Alice points out. “Prepare yourself for some arguments because they will likely happen but walk away if needs be.”

Finally, a little forward planning can work wonders, so think about how you can minimise things if it starts to kick off, and whatever happens, try not to take things too personally.” Reckon that’s easier said than done? Take five to consider how their comments are more about them than they are about you and you’ll be on track to handling petty criticism like a boss.

Coping with loss

Christmas can be a particularly painful time if you’re grieving while everyone else is celebrating.  “Whether you’ve suffered the sudden loss of a loved one or Christmas serves as a reminder of their absence, the festive period can be an emotionally challenging and difficult time of year,” clarifies psychotherapist Johnny Moran (openmindscentre.ie). Sadly, there is no quick fix to feeling better, but in time Christmas may serve as an opportunity to remember the person who’s missing. “Finding a way to celebrate their life over the Christmas period can help with the grieving process, whether it’s putting their photo in pride of place or setting an extra place for them at the table,” he explains.

That’s something that helped Marie, 28, when her brother-in-law passed away suddenly before Christmas three years ago. “He loved buying scratch cards so every year now we have one at each setting at the table and before we eat we toast him and each play one. It’s a nice way of remembering him and including him in the celebrations.”

For Johnny, the means of remembering of your loved one doesn’t matter; what’s important is establishing that sense of connection with them. “Trust in whatever works for you and brings you some comfort,” he advises.

How to work a room 

Does the thought of that looming Christmas party fill you with dread instead of excitement? Rather stay curled up in bed with a hot chocolate and Gilmore Girls on a loop than clinking glasses of Prosecco? If you’re socially awkward at the best of times, Alice says it’s only naturally that a busy calendar of social commitments will make you fret. “The build up to Christmas often involves many more nights out than would normally occur at other times of the year. It also means busier bars and restaurants and while this can be a fun time for some, often it brings with it a huge amount of anxiety for others thanks to the pressure of having to always be on,” she muses.

Ciara, 31, gets it. “I’m not a great conversationalist at the best of times but I get especially anxious around Christmas time when I’m socialising not just more often but with different people. I’m always worried that I’m not funny enough or interesting enough and I usually end up drinking far too much to calm my jitters.”

Fortunately, you don’t have to turn to booze to make things run more smoothly. Firstly, limit yourself to a particular number of social occasions Alice advises because – news flash – you don’t have to accept every invitation.

Next, try offloading some of the pressure you’re piling on yourself. “You don’t need to take on the responsibility of managing all of the social interactions at a party,” Alice points out. “Often people who struggle with social anxiety worry about not being able to hold a conversation but there are at least two people present in any interaction, meaning the responsibility for carrying the conversation is shared amongst you.” Something else to remember? Even people who appear confident can struggle with social anxiety so nine times out of 10 they’ll be feeling just as nervous as you are.

And if you’re still struggling? Give yourself permission to leave. You don’t have to stay somewhere that’s making you feel miserable so plan your exit strategy beforehand in case it all gets too much.

Boy dramas: A guide to scoring your home crush and avoiding your ex

That boy you shared a biology class with back in secondary school has suddenly gone from awkward turtle to regulation hottie and you want in. The easiest way to score him when you’re home for the holidays? Don’t hesitate, says matchmaker Sharon Kenny (matchmaker.ie.) She cites the advice of international life coach Mel Robbins and suggests you follow the five second rule. No, not the one you use when you drop your Peanut Butter toast on the floor. “We can change our minds in five seconds, so when you see that guy you like don’t give yourself an opportunity to back out. Just go for it,” Sharon advises. “Forget your fear of rejection, count back 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and then approach him.” Need an opening line? Something as simple as “The last time I saw you was…” should work a treat, says Sharon, and, bonus point, because you’re from the same area you’ll already have lots to talk about.

As for that ex who you’d rather avoid, firstly, decide if you’d like to speak to them or not, says relationship coach Annie Lavin (relationshipcoach.ie). Sometimes a smile or a simple nod of acknowledgement is enough if you don’t fancy a full blown convo. If you do decide you’d like a chat though, keep things general and brief, Annie instructs, and if you’re nervous don’t be afraid to say so. “Sometimes acknowledging the awkwardness can put you at ease,” she explains. Next, plan your exit strategy. Bumped into him during the day? “You can always use the excuse of having made prior arrangements with family or friends to get to before dashing off,” Annie suggests. And if you’re in the pub, simply tell him it’s your round and you’ve got thirsty friends waiting at the bar. Sorted.

This article first appeared in the December issue of STELLAR Magazine. Our January issue is on shelves now.

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